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D H Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover

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Sex and industry.

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: N/A (there are a few different editions)
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-141-44149-8
First Published: 1928
Date Reviewed: 29th March 2019
Rating: 3.5/5

Connie married a baronet; now back from the war, Clifford is different, his newly-acquired disability changing their marriage. More to the point, however, Connie is becoming bored by him, his clique of quasi-intellectual friends, and the pomp surrounding his titled heritage. After a brief affair with one of the friends, and following a conversation in which Clifford suggested that it wouldn’t be bad if Connie became pregnant by another man so that the baronetcy could continue, Connie meets the her husband’s gamekeeper. Like Clifford, Oliver, too, was at war. His experience situated him somewhere in between the social classes. He is distant and cold, but Connie becomes attracted to him.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a novel of many themes. Most well-known as erotic fiction, the book also looks at class, and the progression of industry over traditional English life.

Lawrence has a lot he wants to say and it’s evident early on that his object is to make his opinion clear, and hopefully easy to emphasise with. Most often when detailing his thoughts – through his characters, looked at in a philosophical manner – he repeats words and phrases until the thought reaches an almost ‘post-‘ level of discussion. Perhaps he saw no other way to get his points across, to rail against the new norms of his day; it’s not hard to liken him to others who behoove their point in a literary manner.

What’s perhaps surprising is that industry is Lawrence’s biggest point, the sex taking second place in this regard. By Lawrence’s time the industrial revolution had reached a particular level; in this book we see the slow but sure change in social make-up, where those who were always rich were starting to sell off their inheritance. Lawrence – of a working class background, the child of a coal miner and a teacher – details the breaking up of estates, the land reused for cheap housing for those who do the literal heavy lifting. The author isn’t too worried, here, about the aristocracy – his sadness lies in rural life changing, in coal mines washing away the peace and beauty of the countryside; if more people had thought as he did perhaps we would have more historical estates remaining today.

The author uses his characters’ minds to spread his opinions. In this respect the book is rather like Anna Karenina – where Tolstoy spreads his thoughts on agriculture enough that his farmer, the rich Lenin, is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the author himself, so too does Lawrence use Connie and Oliver to ‘think’ his own thoughts. Had they been around at the same time, the two writers may have had much to debate.

In talking of industry and as a topic in its own right, Lawrence discusses the class system. He shows how class isn’t always easy to delineate – Oliver, a working class man, has two modes of speech, that of a high-ranking member of the British army, and the dialect of his home and background. Interestingly, Lawrence makes Oliver’s regional dialect the one that is secondary, or at least that’s the effect of it – it seems Oliver’s army English, which is similar to his employers, is now his default; Connie moans at him for speaking in regional dialect because she sees it as affected and not him; part of his character is his struggle between his different lived experiences.

Lawrence discusses the upper class, those with inherited wealth; he dislikes Clifford’s place in the world but is very lenient towards Connie. Connie’s background is somewhere between middle and upper class; in marrying Clifford she’s risen a level, enough that she’s far from Oliver in terms of society but not too high that Lawrence can’t use her for his ‘isn’t the countryside beautiful and industry is ruining it’ monologues. It is unfortunate that Lawrence uses disability – Clifford – as an easy way to justify Connie’s move away from him (though she does care about Clifford), but it is a reflection of the attitudes of the time.

Connie’s desire for sex, that which accompanies love but isn’t necessarily ‘making love’, is fulfilled by Oliver’s arrival in the story. The book is absolutely littered with sex scenes and other references to the act; there’s a reason the title is synonymous with sex and it’s difficult not to argue that despite the theme of industry, the sex shouldn’t be first and foremost in any discussion of the book. (I’ve included it last to subvert this.) Lawrence was not able to publish the book openly in Britain; the publication date of 1928 is the initial, private publication, and the date when it was seen in France and Australia. There was a court dispute in the 1960s; finally Penguin won the right to publish the work in its entirety, years after Lawrence’s death. The sex was still shocking in the ’60s, and it’s still somewhat shocking today. When it comes to these scenes, Lawrence’s phrasing is more poetry than anything else – at least that seems to be what he was going for, with his leaning towards purple prose; there’s a layer of dissociation to it as well. The scenes can verge on being philosophical, like the industrial musings. And it does verge on being too much, unnecessary; it’s both erotic fiction and surprisingly not sexy.

Part of this is down to that dissociation, the gap that exists between Lawrence and his characters. Whilst he writes from Oliver and Connie’s perspective, most often Connie’s, the text reads as though it’s the narration of someone watching and describing what he sees. And a lot of that is down to Lawrence’s writing of Connie herself. The general portrayal isn’t bad, in fact often Lawrence captures her well, but there are unfortunately occasions when he applies the male gaze to her thinking. That Connie thinks about sex in detail works. The way and the how, however, is sometimes at odds, so to speak. This in turn extends to her development as a character – she develops a trait that does not quite fit with who she is; it’s more about Lawrence moving the plot to where he wants it to be.

Lastly on this subject, there is a very minor LGBT element to the story, included in memories of the past. It’s not detailed – understandably, given the era – but it’s there, just enough that Lawrence could probably include it without question.

I haven’t mentioned plot – that’s because it’s very thin, a minor element. The story also doesn’t end in an expected way, instead Lawrence leaves you to decide exactly what happens, and whether or not that’s satisfactory depends on your thoughts thus far.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is both of its time and eternal, with its thoughts of changing times. The stereotype of the book is there for a reason and it’s not a book you can get lost in. It’s best in the context of its fame and publication, and as an eyewitness account and opinion of the era. As a historical document and example of various attitudes, it has a lot to recommend it.

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Diana Gabaldon – Outlander

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Make certain the period you are researching was peaceful…

Publisher: Arrow (Random House)
Pages: 851
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-784-75137-1
First Published: 1st June 1991
Date Reviewed: 8th January 2019
Rating: 3.5/5

Reunited after WWII, Claire and Frank travel from Oxfordshire to the Scottish Highlands. It’s part second honeymoon, part research trip to find out more about Frank’s six-times great-grandfather who was a British officer for the army in the 1740s. Early one morning, the couple visit an ancient stone circle to witness a pagan ritual and it’s an interesting enough event, but when Claire decides to spend more time at the circle and touches the centre stone, she is whisked inside it; upon waking she is once more in the stone circle but there’s a battle going on outside between a band of kilted men and a small English patrol of Red Coats.

Outlander is an epic historical fantasy romance1 that takes a 1940s nurse back in time to the period her husband is researching. Creating for Claire a new life, including a second marriage, and written from her perspective, it stays exclusively in the 1740s.

The first in what is currently a series of eight books with another in the works, Outlander is a lengthy work, and mostly focused on the relationship Claire has with Highlander Jamie. This is to say that while it is a time travel and includes a lot of historical information, the romantic element is paramount and thus the aspect of fantasy far less used.

The history here is very good; whilst not always completely accurate, and not always developed where you might expect it to have been, Gabaldon’s research is evident. Often the reason any one section is slow – there are a fair few of these sections in the first half of the book – is due to the author’s focus on either information or the wish to detail the day-to-day of Claire’s new life as she settles in (or, rather, settles in whilst still planning to escape back to the stones). There is little info-dumping in the book – Gabaldon includes information well – and apart from the few issues with language the history in the book is enjoyable.

In terms of the language it’s 50/50 between highly believable conversation (word choice and phrasing for the time periods) and not so well written in terms of grammar and general phrasing. There are some sentences that use modern phrasing from across the pond that likely skipped through unnoticed, but overall Claire’s descriptions read well. There are a few Gaelic words and Scots words included, the former not necessarily meant to be understood, the latter easy enough to pick up in a short amount of time.

Looking at descriptions, it could well be said that the book would have been better had it been written in the third person. Claire isn’t particularly compelling – in fact she’s often downright irritating – and because Gabaldon sticks to her perspective, lots of elements you might have expected to be included are very short on the ground. Claire doesn’t often compare her new life to her old one or find any difficulties with it; apart from the times when she decides she wants to escape what is otherwise being developed by the author as a comfortable, romantic, new life, and apart from the handful of times when she knows the medical treatment she is giving to a patient won’t actually help, she doesn’t think of Frank, the 1940s, or modernity anywhere near as much as you would expect.

Due to all this, you never once hear about how Frank is doing back in the 1940s – once Claire time travels, he drops out of the story, to be referred to only in thought. This means that the development of Claire’s relationship with Jamie is a lot easier. Another literary device comes in the form of Jamie’s lack of sexual experience, which neatly side-steps the requirement to discuss STIs, which would surely have otherwise entered Claire’s medical mind.

Romance, but mainly the sexual aspect, is a huge part of the book and generally included ‘just because’ rather than to advance the story. The book is essentially an erotic romance, extremely explicit in places, rarely leaving anything to the imagination. As the book continues, it goes further than consensual sex, with scenes of dubious consent, and graphic, violent, rape (the non-sexual violence is also extreme, and there comes a point near the end when it could be called intolerable2 (and means that something minor in terms of story but crucial to the historical context is left out3).

For this then, then, it is difficult to say that Outlander is a general romance, and it’s not only the concentration on lust at the expense of love but the fact of perspective to blame here. Is there romance in the book? Yes, and a fair amount, but given Claire’s indecision, the romance is mostly in Jamie’s court where development and content is concerned. With no time for Jamie’s perspective, this all has to be filtered through dialogue. (Jamie’s perspective, and more historical context, would have helped explain the clash of cultures that forms one of the common criticisms of the book, which cites a man’s punishment of his wife.) The chemistry between the characters is evident, but not portrayed as well as it could have been, especially as Jamie has no real competition due to Frank’s exit stage right.

Outlander definitely has its good – excellent, in fact – moments, and there are patches of terrific humour to be found as well as a steady sense of duty, family, and kin, but it does spend a lot of time on moments that do not move the narrative forward and on things that don’t inform the premise of the story (there are well over 40 sex scenes in the book, both fully consensual and not) and would have been better edited down by a few hundred pages; suffice to say that when Gabaldon returns from the bedroom to the narrative, the effect on proceedings is immediate, and the story continues well. And the positives do out-way the negatives.


1 The author has noted both that as she was writing the book for herself she didn’t limit what she included (Gabaldon, n.d) and that the book has been shelved in shops under a vast variety of genres (Gabaldon, 2016).
2 On page 735 of the novel, Gabaldon does say the following, through Claire, which goes a fair way towards explaining the reason for the inclusion:

One never stops to think what underlies romance. Tragedy and terror, transmuted by time. Add a little art in the telling and voilà! a stirring romance, to make the blood run fast and maidens sigh.

3 Due to the focus on violence, Christmas comes and goes, indeed the days are spent at a Catholic monastery, with absolutely no mention of it by anyone.

Online References

Gabaldon, Diana (n.d.) The Outlander Series, Diana, accessed 9th January 2019
Gabaldon, Diana (2016) Outlander, Diana, accessed 9th January 2019

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Ella Drake – Desert Blade

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Love and survival in an apocalyptic world.

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 71
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-4268-9367-4
First Published: 23rd April 2012
Date Reviewed: 5th June 2012
Rating: 3.5/5

Derek and Lidia met when Lidia was the doctor in charge of rehabilitating him after he lost his arm. The riots and outright violence that had filled the streets of America threatened everyone’s lives, and whilst the two appeared to strike a rapport, it couldn’t last for long. 10 years later and Lidia still wonders what happened to Derek. When he turns up at her new community’s secured dwelling, looking for a doctor for a young friend, the feelings that had had little time to develop come racing back.

As this is a very short book, giving a basic plot summary without including any “spoiler” information is pretty impossible. However considering that the book’s strength lies in its setting and that the book is fairly predictable in an acceptable way, I do not see summarising it as a bad thing.

Drake once again provides us with an example of how creative and interesting she is when it comes to constructing worlds and elaborating on them. We’ve had sci-fi fairytales, romance in space with cowboys, and now we have an empty apocalyptic world. But this isn’t the apocalyptic world of the Young Adult genre, chilling and tyrannical, no, this is your bona fide obliteration, a world where nature has succumbed to the destructive forces of man and given in. Technology still exists but infrequently, and the world is notable for its desert.

The only issue with this is that there’s undoubtedly much to explore and a lot to learn – whilst the reader does learn a lot, the shortness of the book means that a good deal is left unsaid. Indeed the story itself is so short that it feels less of a novella and more the sort of piece that would fit into a collection. Because of the quick pace and few details you wonder if it would have worked better had it been in a compilation.

However that’s not to say that the book is bad, because as inferred, a book with such world building could not be so. And there is a lot to like about Desert Blade. One such example is the beginning, where everything feels rushed and you wonder if this will be the pace throughout. Once you get to the “10 years later” you realise just how appropriate such a fast pace was, not only because it was provided as background context, but because such a format is used for flashbacks in films – a quick glimpse of something, explosive in its revelations, before the story starts for real. You realise that the entire section was in fact one scene.

Something that was pointed out in reviews of Jaq’s Harp, was the inappropriate nature of a couple casually discussing whether they should revive their sexual relationship – all the while being chased by the enemy. Drake clearly took this criticism to heart, however she wove the criticism around her own preferences to good effect. In Desert Blade there may be enemies chasing the couple, but they will find a safe place before discussing their relationship. That Drake took the criticism of her readers and used it to improve an idea that she liked is to be admired and respected. In this one small element of her writing she has improved as a writer ten-fold, and shown that her readers important.

Desert Blade has a good concept behind it, a fascinating world that begs to be portrayed on the big screen, and an interesting mix of traditional and modern values. It may even have a hint of present media culture in the form of an element not unlike X-Men. The sole aspect that holds it back is its length. While we may know enough to understand the attraction between the characters, especially physically, we do not get to spend enough time with them to truly appreciate their positive roles in the community, and whilst another might say that that’s okay given the romantic focus, the fact that Drake included enough about the context to intrigue us, makes it an issue. The concept of lost and found is completed, but it could have been developed a lot more. Whilst the characters are the focus, it can be easy to instead get lost in the setting.

Something that has so far been left out of this review is the reasoning for this book being an erotic rather than fade-to-black romance. There are a couple of scenes, one in particular, with explicit language and no-holds-barred descriptions. However unlike Drake’s previous books, they are not as prevalent and indeed one of them is woven around the issue of contraception, providing a lesson at the same time. That said, Derek is rather open about his love of women in a way that may prove uncomfortable with some readers, especially when his need to protect oversteps the mark.

Desert Blade is an interesting story combined with a compelling sorry world. Appropriate as an introduction to Drake’s work, it demonstrates the author’s strengths well. It perhaps ought to have been longer but is good on its own merit – and it does succeed in continuing the tradition of making you look forward to whatever world Drake has in mind next.

I received this book for review from Carina Press.

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Jodie Griffin – Forbidden Fantasies

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Sprucing something old with something new.

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 73
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-4268-9333-9
First Published: 5th March 2012
Date Reviewed: 29th March 2012
Rating: 4/5

Jess and Alex’s marriage is stable, but after 15 years and two children, their life is set in its ways. Then Jess discovers erotica, and the stories appeal to her. But telling Alex is something else – would he be okay with it all?

As the name suggests, Forbidden Fantasies is a bit of an explicit book dealing with a faithful long-term couple and their first foray into kinky sex – the explicitness regarding word choice rather than any situation. As far as the story goes the scenes are quite mild, and it is only the people the couple encounter, and the described scenes from Jess’s books, that take it any further. In this way it is a very good candidate for anyone looking to try something slightly outside the “norm”, while the faithful loving couple make it a good choice for anyone who might worry about casualness.

And while the scenes are explicit, and start from the word go, they are not uncomfortable. Indeed the inclusion of “forbidden” has a lot more to do with Jess’s upbringing than any sort of sexual urge. It is Jess’s protected childhood and her parent’s views that ultimately cause her to believe that what she wants is wrong, and it’s Alex’s job to convince her that he is okay with what she wants. A lot of scenes look back at how Alex and Jess got through her initial issues with sex itself.

Jess and Alex are struggling with communication and ideals, and while a vast amount of time is given to sexual scenes, there is a lot to be said for the emotion that Griffin stirs up. In fact the scenes full of angst are perhaps the best of all, and Griffin has written them beautifully. They are what sets the book firmly in the realm of romance and because of the nature of the characters crafted, Griffin succeeds in being very true to life.

Because what Griffin examines, as the background to the whole idea of Forbidden Fantasies, is this communication. She demonstrates how things can become out of control if communication is halted, how things can go wrong when a person can only assume from extracts of information, how the smallest of issues can become major problems. Of course because the issue is, at least for the characters, minor, it’s going to be resolved quickly, thus enabling Griffin to get back to the erotic side of things, but everything is given the appropriate amount of time.

Due to the development of the characters, the sexual scenes at the beginning of the book are more what one would term “vanilla”, slowly increasing to soft bondage by the end. Apart from those mentioned there are also brief looks at voyeurism and ménages where the couple are outsiders pondering on these new experiences.

Forbidden Fantasies may be too much of an introduction for seasoned erotic romance readers, but for the person looking to explore the erotic romance genre as a whole, it is a good way of deciding whether or not you might like to take things further. And as far as one can ascertain from the couple, Jess and Alex certainly hope you do.

I received this book for review from Carina Press.

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Ella Drake – Jaq’s Harp

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Magic beans aren’t just for kids.

Publisher: Carina Press
Pages: 56
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-426-89123-6
First Published: 21st February 2011
Date Reviewed: 3rd March 2011
Rating: 3.5/5

Jaq’s sister is dying of a disease that only those who live and work in the sky can cure. Knowing that, as an agent of a covert corporation, she can secret herself up to the floating islands courtesy of her colleague’s beanstalk, Jaq prepares to find the antidote. She may also discover her ex-fiancée in the process.

The set-up for Jaq’s Harp is very good, a blend of science fiction and fairytale, and as before for Silver Bound, Drake successfully creates a world that is fascinating to read about. You are given all the details necessary at any given time to imagine the scene.

The characters are interesting and because of the short page count you get to see how they handle a number of different emotions one after another. Jaq is your kick-ass chick and although you know how Jaq’s mind reels at the sight of her boyfriend, it doesn’t stop her later saving the day. The background story of the characters is given enough time so that you understand their love. I think I would’ve liked to see Jaq take more of a role in the retrieval of the antidote but it didn’t hinder the story.

The inclusion of the fairytale works very well, it’s changed enough to be almost Drake’s own work in its entirety. Having the islanders called Giant Corps is surprisingly original because at times it’s easy to forget the children’s story and so the term nudges your memory.

Once again I find myself saying that I would love to read a story that explores Drake’s world further. The book is apt for the time Jaq’s mission would have taken, it’s only a short mission after all, but it would be great to know that you have more space to really enjoy being in the world created.

The only issue I had was with the romance, not because it’s included, but because its initial placement puts a damper on the pacing. The story begins by throwing you into the situation, racing along as Jaq makes her way towards the enemy and then stops suddenly. It stops so that the heroine can meet her hero, which is fine, but when they start considering whether or not to have sex when they should actually be getting the hell out of there it becomes unrealistic, obvious fantasy genre aside. Romance was to be expected with this book but as Drake shows with a well-timed sex scene at the end, there are better places for it.

To the sex scenes themselves, they are hot. The characters are in love, the details are bold and obvious, the latter more so perhaps than in Silver Bound. The last sex scene ends on a written triumph.

If there’s one single thing I’d like to point out amongst everything else, it’s the inability of the sky-dwellers to look down and the rarity of an earth-dweller looking up. The whole social issue is summed up in that one factor.

If the beanstalk was exciting when conquered once, Jaq’s Harp illustrates that it can be just as exciting when conquered twice.

I received this book for review from Carina Press.

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